Inevitably morning comes too soon and we must take leave of them to cross the rest of the Great Midwest. Even the two cups of coffee in my system and having delayed our departure by 1 1/2 hours until 10 A.M. (we notoriously hate leaving. In fact, on the way back we added an extra day to the stay at my parent's and at my brother's and then got snowed in another day!) could not combat the time change and our late night of merriment. Continuing our journey on I-80 through Chicago to MN seemed positively cruel. But visions of sugar-plums in the shape of Mom, Dad, and little brother, danced through our heads and we plowed onward through the dull scenery.
The next several days were a euphony of the lively chatter of nine adults who hadn't seen each other in months, the mischievous little footsteps of two kids, the crawls of a baby chasing them, and the curious gazes of two smaller babies watching them. This all was punctuated by a pinging and ponging coming from the basement that could almost always be heard in the background if one listened carefully. For as long as I can remember croquet had been our family sport. It was the excuse to dawdle in the backyard together chatting, defending ourselves from the ravenous midwestern mosquitoes, and exercising our competitive spirits in a (usually) friendly competition. Zero degree weather and a foot of snow, however, prevented even the most devoted among us from gathering around the croquet course. My ingenious and ever-thoughtful father had anticipated this and had a brand new ping pong table ready to take the place of croquet in the family gathering and lore. His plan worked marvelously as a replacement. There was actually an official family tournament complete with the multi-bracket tournament schedule posted on the wall. Proudly, I took second overall and first in the women's division.
Other than ping pong, cards, and watching 24 (an extremely addictive TV drama), we really just enjoyed each others' company and were amused by the kids. Here are a few samples:
- My four-year-old nephew and his two-year-old niece were sharing bunk beds and frequently came upstairs with excuses about why they could not sleep. Here's my favorite: "Mommy, Ellie tooted and it stinks too much so I can't sleep."
- My niece has a special secret that she likes to share with my husband when he asks. He comes up to her and says, "Ellie, I have a secret." Her eyes get really big and she comes really close, "What?" She whispers in her really cute little voice. My husband pauses for a second and doesn't say anything and she whispers back, "baby" as if she were the one with the secret.
- Their parents woke up in the middle of the night to Stephen walking around wailing that he lost his goat (we think it was because he had been playing with a stuffed animal the day before) and couldn't find it while his little sister trailed him dragging her blanket and pathetically repeating "goat", "goat" after him.